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New York retailers to leverage social Wi-Fi to drive traffic

Starting Dec. 15, New York merchants will be able to interact with consumers via a new Wi-Fi service that helps draw in-store traffic with geo-targeted ads.

The new social Wi-Fi service is being rolled out by a company called We2, which is a project of Internet provider Gowex. We2 Wi-Fi will allow merchants and consumers to connect with each other through messaging via a free public Wi-Fi and a mobile application.

“When you create the community and you have the ability to push advertisements you have a great power,” said Carlos Gomez Vendrell, CEO of We2, Madrid, Spain.

“You have to think of how merchants are advertising today,” he said. “There are not many sophisticated ways for them to attract demand. We are putting in their hands the ability to target specific users that are close to their business, and that’s a huge thing.

“First there’s an attraction element, which comes from the fact of the ability to push advertising in a geolocated segmented manner, second if you’re talking about in-store traffic the fact of having an appealing Wi-Fi proposal is also a way to attract consumers.”

We2 community
We2 has already signed on hundreds of small to mid-size merchants in the Manhattan area. After launching in New York City, the company plans to move worldwide.

New York City will also be promoting We2 and encouraging more merchants to sign on.

Starting Dec. 15, consumers can download the We2 app to have access to the free Wi-Fi hotspots around New York City. By joining the We2 community, consumers agree to let merchants send them messages and ads via the free Wi-Fi.

Consumers will also be able to communicate with the merchants as well as other consumers on the network.

Similar to LinkedIn, users who opt to be visible within the network can see others in the network. They can then message each other.

Merchants who sign on for the We2 service will convert their existing private Wi-Fi into a public Wi-Fi that consumers can access for free without entering a password. In exchange for offering free Wi-Fi, merchants will receive the ability to push geo-targeted ads to all consumers in the greater We2 network.

For instance, if a We2 consumer is walking by a store, the merchant can push a message inviting the consumer in and offering a deal.

Merchants can also communicate with consumers already in-store with real-time, direct messages. They will be able to better understand their consumers and gain insights on purchasing behavior.

The We2 project is based on a partnership between Gowex and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) in the context of Michael Bloomberg’s Wireless Corridor Challenge.

Free Wi-Fi
Free Wi-Fi alone has already proven to drive in-store traffic and keep consumers in-store for longer.

For instance, Starbucks has been offering free Wi-Fi to its consumers for a while. It recently partnered with Google to make that Wi-Fi even faster (see story).

We2 is taking the idea of free Wi-Fi to the next level by making it easy to leverage the free Wi-Fi for advertising purposes.

Not only will merchants attract consumers based solely on offering free Wi-Fi, but they can incentivize purchasing and store visits with geolocation and targeting.

“At the end, this is not anymore free Wi-Fi, it’s profitable Wi-Fi,” Mr. Vendrell said. “It’s a tool for your company to be more profitable because you’re not only offering a service that customers will appreciate but you’re also increasing demand around your shop.

“There’s a new channel, a new way of communicating between merchants, owners, employees and customers, and of course it’s a piece of information that enables merchants to treat their customers in a way more personalized manner,” he said.

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York